Medical squadron takes on AFSO 21 challenge

  • Published
  • By Frank McIntyre
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
The 71st Medical Support Squadron's radiology section wasted little time following the Air Force Smart Operations 21 announcement to roll out a smarter, less expensive way of conducting their business.

The X-ray department recently switched to a photo archiving and communications system, or PACS. PACS takes advantage of technology to replace film images with digital images.

"Our patients won't notice the change when X-rays are taken," said Staff Sgt. Gilbert Martinez, 71st MDSS diagnostics imaging journeyman and PACS administrator. "The X-rays are still taken with the same equipment, but that's the only similarity.

"Instead of the X-ray being on film that has to be processed, it's now on a large memory card that is simply downloaded onto a computer, basically converting the X-ray machine into a large digital camera," Sergeant Martinez said.

Putting the image into the computer has distinct advantages over the old process. Because there is no radiologist assigned here, one of the technicians had to drop off all films taken on a given day at one of the local hospitals to be read, and then return the next morning to pick up the films. Now the images are e-mailed to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., to be read by one of the 11 staff radiologists there.

In addition to saving technicians time, the new method saves the $30,000 annual contract cost of the old method.

The academy provides this service to 11 bases throughout the country. Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and Lackland AFB, Texas, are the two other hubs providing similar service for bases with PACS, but without radiologists.

In addition to the manpower and contract savings, the new system will provide an additional annual savings estimated at more than $20,000, said Master Sgt. James Moore, NCO in charge of the X-ray lab.

"One of the benefits of the PACS is the memory card plates replacing the film can be used over and over again, saving dollars each time. With the hazardous chemicals formerly used for film processing eliminated, PACS is also an environmentally friendly system."

The old method stored large film images in manila envelopes for routing to those who required access to a patient's X-rays, while the new method allows digital images to be stored in a database and easily brought up on a physician's computer. Once on the computer screen, the X-rays can be visually manipulated for better viewing of problem areas.

"Our providers have been very pleased with the versatility of digital films," said Capt. Leah Cross, 71st Medical Group diagnostics and therapeutics flight commander. "Being able to manipulate the images makes this system a better diagnostic tool than the standard X-ray."

"We are absolutely thrilled to have this technology here at the 71st Medical Group," said Lt. Col. Jeffery Jones, 71st MDSS commander. "This is a prime example of how the Air Force Medical Service has stepped up and applied AFSO 21 to work smarter at delivering medical capabilities focused on supporting the warfighter.

"We were able to eliminate an old film processor and cut our hazardous materials inventory by 66 percent,' the colonel said. "We have already taken the lessons learned in the process and are leaning forward in acquiring similar technology for our dental clinic."